Although I have never been a keen angler, throughout my life I have always had a love for fish. It may stem from the fact that my grandfather and my father were at some time connected with the trade.
To this day there is nothing I find more interesting that visiting a Fish market and gazing at the displays of todays fish.
Looking across Dudley Street in 1952 from outside The Queens cinema, behind the keep left sign on the corner of John’s Lane we see the business of Dunn & Co hatters. Next door were the glass fronted doors of Fish and Game dealer J. Smith, just one of 30 or so Fishmongers in town at that time.
But let me tell you about the times during the war when the local fishmonger had to a certain extent rely on the line and in-shore fishermen and some strange species found themselves on the marble slab. Apart from the ever present cod, herrings, and hake, such newcomers as rock cod and rock salmon appeared.
These names hid the identity of the dog-fish, and tope, both members of the shark family, but culinary skill could even make these very attractive to the consumer.
You would often see the odd pike lovingly laid out on the market slabs in his green and ivory stripes. We never had pike, I remember my grandfather saying it would need an artist in the kitchen to make that bony brute appetising.
Yes, there was little artistry about a fish shop during the war, but later the more modern display in many cases became a work of art.
Admittedly the raw material on which the salesman can work is varied. The bright yellow of smoked haddock, the lovely green sheen of mackerel, the scarlet of lobster, the pink of the prawn,with the copper and yellow of the crab, add to this the once humble kippers, and all in a frame of cracked ice.
Which brings me to Wolverhampton Market, and a display which instantly springs to mind.
It was a I recall on the slab of Fred Thomas, where on his display was a skilfully coiled conger eel facing out into the crowded gangway. In its gaping jaws was a full-sized lemon and from out of his ears grew two dainty sprigs of parsley.
A sight indeed to make a crowd stop, stare, and perhaps buy.
This little story is dedicated to my father’s friend “Big Sydney Smith”.
Thanks for all the fish.